And with this review of When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain by Nghi Vo, second in The Singing Hills Cycle, my little linked series of novella reviews will come to an end.
So far I’ve learnt a few things about expectations and story enjoyment. and the relationship between feeling critical of a book and slumps.
I had a pretty good feeling about getting that slump busting big win out of When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain after loving The Empress of Salt and Fortune. A friend warned me it wasn’t as good, but I shrugged and went in anyway.
The friend was right. When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain is good, but it lacks the breathtaking epicness and swagger of its predecessor. The framing device – the cleric Chih must tell some stories to avoid becoming tiger chow, which is tricky when the tigers keep making interruptions and corrections – is arguably more interesting, but I don’t love deviations in myths and legends enough to love a book all about them. The story is the romance of an impoverished would be scholar and a fierce tiger, and romance alone doesn’t keep my interest that well.
That said, when I found myself nitpicking, that’s when I realised I was too badly in the slump to really be appreciating new fiction.
Mood absolutely influences how we read stories, and the stories we read influences mood. Separating these things so we can tell how we actually feel about a story is a great deal easier said than done. At first I thought how I felt about Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances was my slump talking. It wasn’t. With When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain it was the opposite. It felt like the slump but when I stopped to examine my feelings, I realised I was overreacting because of slump feelings and from there on enjoyed the rest of the read a good deal more. Performing that little internal audit made all the difference.
In any case, When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain is a fine sequel but with reservations. It treads new ground and it is quite possible to find it a significantly different experience, as I did. I look forwards to the third book in the series though and if you think the choices made sound fascinating, then you’re in luck here.
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